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An economy of reception? The relation between sacrament and sociality in Lutheran Protestant societies

A collective AUFF NOVA project funded by the Aarhus University Research Foundation. Project manager Bo Kristian Holm

The main discourse used to understand society, political necessities and political decisions today involves the use of an economic perspective. Even economists have called for critical opposition to this trend, and sociologists have referred to what they call the broken promises of modernity (Hartmut Rosa). The point of departure of this project is the question of whether this conquering of the discourse by an economic perspective has been detrimental to the balance that was vital for the development of modern Northern European societies. If liturgy has played the role in the politico-religious and socio-religious development of Europe which has been ascribed to it by leading theorists, the formation of Lutheran societies has been influenced by rationales that are not purely economic – precisely because Lutheranism redefined sacramentalism.

The project is experimental. The ambition is to contribute to a new theory about Protestantism and a new approach to its study by answering various interconnected questions:

  1. How does a focus on social and economic dimensions change our understanding of the role of liturgy for a Lutheran worldview?
  2. How does a new understanding of the role of liturgy change our understanding of the influence of Lutheran Protestantism, thereby changing our understanding of the dependency of contemporary society on historical developments?
  3. Does this provide the basis for a critical and academically sound correction of the contemporary political discourse by emphasising that the cultural heritage from Lutheranism is pluriform and far more than a mere prerequisite of secularisation?


Bo Kristian Holm: Liturgy as social theory

In a Lutheran understanding, liturgy and theology are closely connected. The goal of Luther’s pastoral care approach to theology is to place Man in a new relationship of salvation with God. So theology is part of the communication between God and Man, just like the liturgy of church services. By considering the work of William Cavanaugh, Marcel Hénaff and others, this study explores the extent to which Lutheran liturgy can be read as social theory.

Jette Bendixen Rønkilde: A practical/theoretical study of the Eucharist with particular focus on social practices and ideas

In my research I explore the relationship between sacramentalism and sociality in Protestantism with particular focus on the relationship between Lutheran doctrine and practice and the formation of society in Denmark. The structure of the study is based on the question of which social imaginings are practised in Eucharistic liturgies, for instance. The study involves a practical/theoretical exploration of liturgies in particular; but other groups of sources such as journals of pastoral visitations, proceedings of diocesan conferences, catechisms, sermons, psalms, books of homilies and prayer books will also be included.

Eva Krause Jørgensen: Theories of Protestantism and sacramentalism

My research consists partly of a historiographical study of how the Reformation and Protestantism have been interpreted in various ways in large areas of modernity as an essential foundation of subsequent processes leading towards secularisation, rationalisation and capitalism. In particular, my study focuses on (Western) theorists from the sociological, theological and historical traditions of the 20th century. I also examine the relationship between sacramentalism and sociality in Protestantism with particular focus on how this has been expressed in the historical development of Danish society. I am particularly interested in the position, interests and freedom of action of the secular authorities in relation to the people and the church – as articulated, negotiated and practised in connection with cases of penance and excommunication or school, social and reform policy (for instance).